Lawmakers often frame a budget debate in terms of trade-offs: guns vs. butter, spending at home vs. spending abroad, or in the case of the current U.S. Congress, everything Obama supports vs. everything Obama opposes. But in India, lawmakers have recast the debate as a stark divide between heavenly purity or earthly uncleanness.
The BJP’s candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, braved a minor controversy on Wednesday when he announced to a crowd in Delhi: “My image does not permit [me] to say so, but I dare to say my real thought is Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya (Toilets first, temples later).”
His comments echoed those of development minister Jairam Ramesh, who insisted that the public need for toilets was so dire, it outstripped the need for more temples. Sixty-four percent of Indians, Ramesh said, are forced to defecate in open-spaces, contributing to widespread sickness, which in turn leads to malnutrition and stunting in children.
Religious groups have taken offense at the juxtaposition of toilets and temples. In the past, so has Modi’s own party the BJP. On the other hand, looking at this World Bank infographic on the value of proper sanitation — which could save the world some $260 billion in health costs and productivity losses — it seems pretty indisputable that cleanliness is next to godliness.